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Belkin TuneCommand AV review: Belkin TuneCommand AV

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The TuneCommand AV works with 4G, Photo, Nano, and Mini iPods for audio and photos, but to display video, you'll obviously need a video-enabled iPod--either the original 5G version or the recent upgrade. The TuneCommand AV package includes an iPod dock base station, an A/V cable (three feet long), and a small wireless (RF) remote control. You also get four interchangeable trays to snugly fit various types of iPods in the dock, as well as a lanyard and a belt clip so you can wear your remote around the house, if you're the type that does that sort of thing.

6.0

Belkin TuneCommand AV

The Good

The Belkin TuneCommand AV allows you to play audio, video, and photos stored on your iPod through your home-theater system while charging your iPod. We also appreciated the S-Video connection for superior video output and that you can control your system from as much as 120 feet away with the included remote.

The Bad

The remote has limited functionality, the iPod menus aren't duplicated on the TV screen, and there's no USB pass-through port for connecting the dock to your computer.

The Bottom Line

The Belkin TuneCommand AV offers nearly identical features to Apple's iPod AV connection kit but costs $30 less, making it a better bargain for people who watch a lot of iPod video on their TVs.
The poor man's way to play iPod audio, video, and still images through your home theater is to buy an inexpensive cable that plugs into the headphone jack of your iPod and hook it up to the inputs on your TV and home stereo. But if you're looking for a more advanced A/V connection that includes an S-Video plug, a built-in iPod charger, and remote control operation, you need to step up to the ($99) or a third-party alternative, such as the Belkin TuneCommand AV reviewed here. The Belkin's list price is $90, but it's widely available online for around $70--if not less.

As far as connectivity goes, you have several choices. The simplest option is to attach the included A/V cable to the variable volume A/V output on the back of the dock. One side of the cable--the side that plugs into the dock--looks like your standard headphone jack, while the other side looks like your standard red, white, and yellow composite audio/video jacks. The advantage to this setup is that you can control the volume using Belkin's little white remote, which controls your iPod from as far away as 120 feet. The downside is that you're not getting the best video connection; for that, you'll need to provide your own S-Video cable.

For the majority of our tests, we connected the TuneCommand AV to a TV with an S-Video cable and opted for the fixed stereo line-out route using standard red-and-white RCA audio cables (also not included). This afforded us the best picture quality, but we did have to control the volume with the TV's remote (if you connect the audio to your A/V receiver's inputs, you'd use the A/V receiver's remote to adjust the volume).

All in all, we had pretty decent results. Using the Neuros MPEG-4 Recorder 2 Plus, we'd recorded a few episodes of The Office at Fine quality, and while they looked a little soft on our wide-screen, 30-inch, direct-view HDTV, they were quite watchable. As you might expect, the higher the resolution and better the quality of videos you have stored on your iPod, the better the image you'll get on your TV. The same goes for photos.

The one area we were a little disappointed with was the remote's limited functionality, though this downfall is more Apple's fault than Belkin's. You can control five basic functions: play/pause, next/previous track, volume up/down, song shuffle, and repeat. Unfortunately, however, you can't navigate through your iPod's menus on your TV--an Apple restriction, present on every dock we've seen to date--so to select a new movie, play a new song, or launch a new slide show, you have to step up to your iPod, and queue up everything by pressing the buttons on the iPod itself. It's also worth mentioning that if you lose the wireless connection between the remote and the dock, you have to unplug the power cord from the dock, then plug it back in to reestablish a connection. (By way of comparison, the remote in Apple's A/V Connection Kit uses IR, or infrared, which requires line of sight to the device, but not any sort of pairing.)

Apart from those gripes we didn't have any major complaints. Yes, it would've been nice if there'd also been a USB pass-through port so that you could connect the dock (and your iPod) to your computer for syncing. While Apple's iPod A/V Connection Kit includes this feature, it's not that big a deal because we suspect most folks will keep the TuneCommand connected to their home stereo and TV.

In the final analysis, $70 is still a bit pricey for this type of accessory--Apple takes a licensing fee on all iPod accessories that manufacturers pass on to consumers--but it's a good deal less expensive than Apple's similarly featured iPod AV Connection Kit. And that makes it a pretty good deal for anybody who's watching a lot of iPod videos on their TV.

6.0

Belkin TuneCommand AV

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7